Spared another exhausting meeting with Anthony Zinni about a cease-fire, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will have the pleasure of Bill Clinton's company this week. Sharon selected a group of city mayors, all of them Likud, to invite to the dinner, reducing any danger of the conversation turning to irrelevant subjects like the "peace process." Until not so long ago, this was the apple of the guest of honor's eye.
Bush has given Sharon no reason to miss Clinton, who at the Wye Plantation in late 1998 managed to get Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to handing over another 13 percent of the West Bank. Not only has the new American president come nowhere near the Israeli-Arab conflict in the first year of his term, and not only has the peace team shut down shop, but Bush has adopted the Pentagon's Middle East world view that nothing at all good ever comes out of being too involved in this conflict.
The U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has joined the large camp of advisors who convinced Bush that Iraq is the primary issue for the United States in this region. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who fears that violence will not abate in the occupied territories, has become almost irrelevant. A short time after Bush's election, a false rumor made the rounds that he was toying with the idea of appointing Clinton as his special envoy to the Middle East.
It is doubtful that Clinton would agree to reenter this quagmire and concede his star lecturer's fees for the vague possibility of getting the Nobel Peace Prize that slipped out of his fingers. Anyway, after the final results of the Camp David peace summit, whose rotten fruit we are eating today, it is not at all clear Clinton would be an ideal mediator.
But his formula of December 2000 - known as the Clinton outline - remains the basis for a final settlement. A brief summary of the proposal: The Palestinians would get about 94-96 percent of the West Bank and another 1-3 percent inside the Green Line; the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem would be under Palestinian sovereignty, and the Jewish ones under Israeli sovereignty; the Palestinians would have sovereignty over the Temple Mount and Israel over the Western Wall; it would be stated that the Palestinians would have the right of return to the national home but this would not be realized freely within Israel; the signing of the final status agreement would mark the end of the conflict.
In an article published on the weekend in the Washington Post, Fatah Secretary General on the West Bank Marwan Barghouti, who has become one of the strongest people in the territories, declares: "We Palestinians have recognized Israel on 78 percent of historic Palestine. It is Israel that refuses to acknowledge Palestine's right to exist on the remaining 22 percent of land." And in order that his death not be lightly dismissed by the world as just one more statistic in Israel's "war on terrorism," - as he puts it - Barghouti makes it clear that he will fight to his last drop of blood for a just settlement based on coexistence between two countries on both sides of the Green Line and for a solution to the problem of the refugees, based on United Nations resolutions.
Perhaps these important comments have contributed in some way to improving the terrible status of the Palestinians in American public opinion. But the decision concerning how much Jewish and Palestinian blood will be spilled until they get a state is up to Israeli public opinion. No claim, no matter how "logical" and "just," will convince people who go to a party in the evening only to meet the next day at the cemetery, to search for the guilty parties at home.
But what would happen if Arafat really did stop the violence and decided to take advantage of Clinton's presence in town to announce that he formally accepts his proposal? Relevant or not - in accordance with the principle of continuity, the Sharon, Peres, Lieberman government is committed formally to the decision of the Barak government to adopt the Clinton outline.
One way or another, the Palestinians have heard on more than one occasion from the Americans that if the situation in the occupied territories goes back to the way it was, the U.S. honeymoon with Sharon would end.
Then Bush would remind Israel and the entire world that the United States' position in principle concerning the fate of those territories has not changed since 1967. Neither has its perception of the settlements improved since the father of the current president helped Yitzhak Shamir vacate his seat in favor of Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo agreements.
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